Interview With Vanessa Grenier And Maxime Deschamps

In their first season together, Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps achieved the impossible: standing atop the podium as Canadian Junior Pairs Champions. What made this feat even more incredible was that although Maxime had competed the previous year as a pairs skater, Vanessa had no pairs experience and was a former Senior Ladies competitor. Already showing consistency, attack and technical prowess in their skating, their free skate at the Nationals this year commanded audience and showed nothing but HUGE potential for the future. Vanessa and Maxime took time for their training schedule to talk about their win at Canadians, plans for the future, partnership and much, much more in this all new interview:

Q: You've had so much success in your skating careers already and you're both just getting started. You won the Canadian junior title this year in Ottawa and really proved yourselves in doing so. What have been the proudest moments so far in your skating careers and what's next for you?

A from Vanessa: That title is certainly one of the best moments so far but what we remember from that competition is also our performance in the long program. We both felt really good and we did a program that looks like the ones we do in practice. We gave everything and we were really proud of how we skated. We can say that we were able to fully enjoy the moment as we skated a clean program. I think our smiles were sincere throughout the whole program because we were really having fun on the ice
and living the moment! We are also very proud of the whole season. We worked hard and we saw the results. We've shown a constant progression and we've received tons of good comments from everyone.

A from Maxime: Our goal this season was only to make a good impression and we think we made more than that with this title. It is beyond our expectations. We never thought, when we started together, that we would reach this level so fast. From our first competition of the season to the last competition, we improved our short program score by 12 points, and and our long program score by 25 points. We were improving our score at every single program we were doing in competition and that was the goal we set before every competition.

Q: Vanessa, you competed as a singles skater prior to teaming up with Maxime and have won the silver medal on the junior level at Canadians, been a top ten ranked Senior Ladies competitor in Canada and had success internationally as well. How difficult was making the transition from singles to pairs?

A from Vanessa: Much easier than I expected! I had the perfect partner to start with, because he had the experience and strength to guide me and hold me. There is no pair element he can't do, due to his strength and experience, so that made my job easier. I only had to focus on myself to make the elements work. I also had to develop my strength, flexibility and presence on the ice a lot during my singles career, as I had to be strong on my own if I wanted to perform well. So even without the experience in pairs, I was bringing something else to the team. In a different way, my intensive training in singles was indirectly a good training for pairs.

Q: Maxime, last year you finished in 7th in Junior Pairs at Canadians with your former partner Naomie Boudreau. What made you decide to switch partners and what really clicked the most with Vanessa that helped you make such a quick jump in the standings after only one year together?

A from Maxime: In pair skating, the match makes a big difference. With that other partner, the match just wasn't the right one. We weren't working for the same goal. I was expecting for better results and we knew that we wouldn't achieve them together. Changing partners is definitely not the most thrilling part of skating. Finding the good partner is so difficult. I think we both made a smart move in searching for new partners. She also had success this year with her new partner Cédric Savard, as they came 3rd in the Novice pairs event. I'm happy for her and I think she is also happy for me, it's just better for both of us this way.

Q: Canada is a country that's just full of pairs skating legends - Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier and countless others. Who is your favourite Canadian pairs team and why?

A from Vanessa: My vote goes to Jamie Salé and David Pelletier. Talk about finding the right partner! They are the perfect example. Together they had a chemistry like no other. They've had memorable skates, not so much because of their technical abilities, but because of their performance level. They were connecting with each other and that was something special. They had the power to make us feel something as spectators - to believe in their stories and connect with them. They were special and they still are when they perform in shows. As for the other pair teams, I'm a little too young to remember them, but I heard so much greatness about many of them! They all have their unique qualities.

A from Maxime: Same for me... Jamie Salé and David Pelletier. The day I saw them skate at the Olympics is the day I told myself I would be at the Olympics one day. Before that day, I was just skating just to improve my skating skills to play hockey. After that day, I had a dream. In the beginning, I wanted to compete singles but at the age of about 16 years old, I realized it would be impossible for me to go as a single skater. I started doing pairs. There were pair teams training at the place I was skating at that time, and I was so impressed by the lifts. When my coach told me to do my first lift, I just remember telling myself that I wasn't strong enough to do this. Then I tried my first lift and I fell in love with pair skating. Salé and Pelletier were already my idols. I wanted to become as great as them. I still remember their entire program at the Olympics - the "Love Story" program. It was one of the best programs ever performed, because of the chemistry between them. It was incredible. The fluidity on the ice was amazing. They were flying and everything was looking so effortless.

Q: What are your long term goals in the sport and what do you want to focus on next season the most?

A from Vanessa: The 2018 OLYMPICS! This is the first long term goal that we planned. However this is really far, so our focus is not so much on that right now. We want to plan one season at the time. We will start pretty soon our 2 new programs for the next season. We want to make them much more elaborated and tricky. We're going to have fun with our choreographer Julie Marcotte, choreographing our new Senior programs. Our choreography this past season was built after less than 2 months skating together. We improved so much during less than a year that we need 2 completely new programs to show our new abilities. We have to bring our programs, this time, to the level we are now. We also have to consider that we will still improve. As for the technical aspects, in the next couple months we want to learn new lifts, new throws, and we also want to add the triple twist. This is where our focus is for the off-season. Adding to that, we hope we made a good impression enough to be sent to international senior competitions in the next season. I don't think Max wants to add anything to this. We've discussed so many times about our goals and we agree on all of them. We are truly working in the same direction.

A from Maxime: Haha... Right! She said it all.

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A from Maxime: One thing people don't know about us is that after every competition, Vanessa and I go for an ice cream! We made a deal this summer because ice cream is a thing she loves but she can't eat it in her plan. I decided to support her and stop eating ice cream except for when we are going together for the traditional post-competition ice cream.
Q: Describe your absolute PERFECT meal - appetizer, dinner and dessert!

A from Vanessa: A warm appetizer (because I'm always cold) followed by a good salad (pretty much any kind, it is always tasty and so refreshing). The dessert isn't part of my regular planned diet, but after a competition, as we mentioned, an ice cream is required... haha. On a regular routine, any meal that has fresh vegetables in it is just the perfect meal because it's refreshing; it tastes good. It gives me good energy and makes my body feel good.

A from Maxime: I like any kind of meat, so any meal that has been well cooked and has fresh meat is perfect for me. For dessert, I really enjoy cheesecake!

Q: What do you consider the most challenging element in pairs skating - lifts, throws, side by side jumps, twists... or something else? How have you worked to improve your consistency on it/them?

A from Vanessa: Death spirals! This is what caused me the most trouble of all the different elements. It's not related to any element of singles, which is maybe why it took me more time to learn. It also looks really easy when we watch, but it's not! Even during the practices at Nationals, I was still figuring out stuff that helped me improve the death spiral. It's a tricky one I find, especially the back inside (the one we had in the short).

A from Maxime: Side by side spins is definitely not my favorite element to work on. Everybody who did pairs knows how hard it is to time the rotation. The only way to succeed in this element is to practice again and again. When we were skating singles, we were both excellent in spins but in pairs what matters is the synchronization and the match of the positions. We have to rotate at the same speed, have the exact same positions, the same timing in the transitions of the positions, etc. and we haven't even talked about the speed. We're not even there yet. It requires good control and consistence. That element is the one I find the hardest.

Q: What do you love the most about being out on the ice?

A from Vanessa: You never get bored of skating because there are so many different elements and aspects of your skating that you can improve. It requires skill, power, strength, control, grace, fluidity, endurance... and the most rewarding thing is when you can showcase all of this in a program in competition and you can simply enjoy the moment!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Interview With Michael Chack

Leaving an indelible icy footprint on the sport and boasting an extremely loyal fan base throughout his rich skating career is something that really made Michael Chack a fan favourite throughout his skating career. He keeps extremely busy to this day with teaching and performing engagements at Sharks Ice and Yerba Buena Ice Center and with Rand Family Entertainment, where he continues to perform as a principal soloist. Chack first really caught the skating world's attention by winning the 1989 U.S. Junior title, earning a fifth place finish at the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and through wins at international competitions such as the Nebelhorn Trophy and Karl Schafer Memorial and a bronze medal at the 1993 U.S. Championships, he made a name for himself that continued to expand in popularity over his lengthy and successful career. Turning professional in 1999, his skating continued to be revered by skating purists for its impeccable technique and line and his touring with Holiday On Ice exposed him to appreciative audiences worldwide. It was my absolute pleasure to speak with him about his "amateur" and professional careers, how the term "Chacked" will be forever associated with him, the IJS judging system and much more:

Q: You competed at the senior level at seven U.S. National Championships, winning the bronze medal in 1993 (as well as winning several international events) and retired from ISU eligible competition in 1999. What was your favourite competition you participated in and why?

A: I had so many memorable competitions because I set certain goals for each one and reached them. One that that will always be special is Skate America - my first major international as a senior - and I landed my first triple Axel and got a standing ovation. I always loved competing overseas representing the U.S. in internationals and seeing our flag go up.

Q: The jargon team "Chacked" was coined after your bronze medal winning performance missed the broadcast during the 1993 Championships for skaters whose performances were not televised and certainly should have been. What was your feeling about this whole experience?

A: The term "Chacked" still makes me laugh because I feel it's made a impact in every sport that when a athlete has a special moment and it's not seen by the public, gets recognized. It's nice to be remembered that way.

Q: What have you been up to since retiring from competitive figure skating?

A: Gosh... where do I begin with after I turned pro? I had the most amazing pro career. Seen the world, been challenged with amazing choreographers and turned me into a very versatile performer. It also gave me the ability to skate just for the love of it with no pressure. I now teach and choreograph mostly in San Francisco but still perform I'm short term gigs. I'm not ready to give up the performing side of my life yet but love teaching.

Q: Who did you most enjoy skating or competing with and who was your fiercest competitor?

A: I was very lucky to train in Arrowhead and train everyday with Michelle Kwan, Nicole Bobek, Angela Nikodinov and the top pros in the world. I was my own fiercest competitor. I always wanted to beat my last competition. I focused on me and what I had to do.

Q: What are your thoughts on the new judging system and do you think you would have liked to have competed under this scoring system? Does it help or hurt skating and overall performances?

A: The new IJS system is quite a mathematical challenge and makes the sport so much more complicated. Not sure how I feel about it. I think they created it so it is truly fair judging.

Q: At the 1991 U.S. National Championships, you attempted an insanely difficult and unheard of one-foot axel/quadruple salchow combination. What prompted you to attempt this ridiculously difficult jump combination?

A: As far as my quad, I just loved jumping and trying different things and pushing skating limits.

Q: What was working with legendary coaches like Peter Burrows and Frank Carroll like?

A: Having Peter Burrows for 15 years taught me how to be a true technician and he was wonderful for me at the time in my life. Frank was what I needed to close my career because we clicked so well.

Q: Your style was and is always very mature and put together, with excellent line, carriage and extension. Did you take off ice dance training or was this quality in your skating simply a result of strong skating skills?

A: I took dance classes through my entire career and still dance to keep in shape and be creative as a modern choreographer.

Q: Who are the most fascinating personalities in the sport today?

A:  I feel we don't have American stars like we used to. Champions change every year and I just respect all those who can stand up under such pressure in the sport these days.

Q: Who is your hero in life?

A: My hero in my life is my family and those who still love and believe in me.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Interview With Colin McManus

If you haven't heard of Anastasica Cannuscio and Colin McManus, might I suggest another place to hang out than under that rock? It must be so dark trying to watch skating under there! The duo are a shining example of just what magic can happen when natural talent and hard work meet in the medal. After medalling on the junior level at the U.S. Championships and on the Junior Grand Prix, Cannuscio and McManus made the leap to the senior ranks and won their first senior international competition when they attended the Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria. Fresh off performing their hearts out in front of a hometown crowd at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, Colin McManus took the time to talk about he and Stasia's career together, their goals for the future, Theatre On Ice and much, much more in this interview you're just going to love as much as their skating:

Q: You and Anastasia have medalled on the junior level at the U.S. Championships, represented the U.S. at the Junior World Championships and this season won the Ice Challenge international competition in Graz, Austria ahead of 12 other teams from around the world. What do you consider to be the highlights or most special memories of your skating career to date?

A: Just reading that list of accomplishments makes me incredibly proud of everything Stasia and I have done. When I first started skating with Stasia, I was a one year Novice skater making the jump up to Junior. Stasia had already been on the Junior Grand Prix circuit for a season (way out of my league), and now she had to skate with my sorry Novice self. So, people had some lower expectations. Needless to say, the expectations grew. Stasia and I truly started at the bottom of the proverbial skating ladder and over the past six seasons we have climbed every step from International Selection Pool to Junior Grand Prix to Junior Worlds to Senior B to Grand Prix. It makes every accomplishment so much more meaningful. Sitting back and thinking about it all, I am most proud of earning the host pick to Skate America in 2012. Breaking onto the Grand Prix circuit was beyond anything I ever thought I could do, and it made Stasia and I hungry to keep climbing and see what we could accomplish.

Q: Looking towards the 2014/2015 season and beyond, what kind of goals do you and Anastasia have? What direction do you want to go in with your skating?

A: In all honesty, this past season was a bit of a wake up call. Though we had some great highlights, the end of the season left a lot to be desired. We are both motivated to become one of the top dance teams in the country. We are ready to reinvent ourselves, and take chances. We are currently working with our coaches assessing the past 6 years, and setting up the best game plan for us. We want to get more international assignments, we want to get back onto the Grand Prix circuit, and we want to be on the podium at the U.S. Championships. We have a great support system behind us, and we are ready to take our skating in a new direction.

Q: You represent the Skating Club Of Boston and are from Massachusetts. What was skating on home ice in a packed arena at the 2014 U.S. Nationals like?

A: It is something that I had envisioned a lot over the season, and I didn't quite know how I would handle the extra emotions that come with it. One word I can use to describe it is overwhelming. I knew this was the first time that a lot of my family would see me compete live. Whenever I compete, I always make it a point to find where my parents are sitting when I am taking my laps. This time around I didn't have to look very hard to see people I knew. The crowd was scattered with so many familiar faces, and that alone made the competition incredibly special for me. Though it wasn't only family in the crowd that was comforting to me, I knew so many people involved with the Local Organizing Committee. Every corner I turned back stage there was someone from Skating Club Of Boston ready to give me a hug. My friends and family mean so much to me, and now they were all gathered to support me and everything I had been working so hard for. Its something that I will never forget, and for me I don’t think any other U.S. Championships will top it.

Q: I loved that you skated to "Bust Your Windows" by Jazmine Sullivan for your short dance in 2011. That song is so much fun! Where do you get your program ideas and what's one piece of music you'd love to skate to?

A: That was one of my favourite programs! We knew that it was our last year at the Junior level, and it was the first year of the new Short Dance event. So, we figured we would really push the envelope and make a memorable program. Our coach Karen had been dying for a team to skate to "Bust Your Windows". So we took that song and "It's A Man’s World" by James Brown and created an soulful edgy waltz/tango. With that program, Stasia and I were the first team to ever compete a short dance at an ISU event, we won our first Junior Grand Prix medal, and we went to Junior Worlds. So, it  truly special to me for a lot of reasons. We generally collaborate with Karen at the beginning of every season, and try to pick a piece that will challenge us and help us continue to grow. Looking for the right music is always one of the more stressful parts of your season! Two years ago I got the idea for our rock and roll free dance from a So You Think You Can Dance? group number by Wade Robson. The song was called "Comanche" by The Revels, and I was obsessed with the that cool laid-back style of dancing, and we built a whole program around that group number. There is one piece of music that I would love to skate too and that is "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg". Being very lyrical, I think the music suits my skating style, but by no means do I think I could do that music justice (especially after Tessa and Scott’s program in '08) I have wanted to skate that music for years, but there are audible beat requirements for Ice Dance music. So,we tend to steer clear of heavily orchestrated pieces just to be safe. That means no "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" for me! Maybe one day...

Q: What do you think you and Anastasia's biggest weakness as a team is and how have you worked to improve specifically in that area?

A: I feel like we have two weaknesses, one of them being lifts. Lifts have become increasingly acrobatic and I feel that our lifts are something that separate us from the top teams in the world. We are currently working with our coaches to bring in a fresh perspective on lift ideas, and we hope that will help give us a more well balanced program. The other big struggle for us is finance. Neither Stasia nor I come from wealthy families, so we try to work a lot with fundraising to help our families pay for the expenses. There are so many components to training, and we want to give ourselves every opportunity.

Q: You have participated in Theatre On Ice with Act 1 Of Boston. What do you enjoy most about Theatre On Ice and how do you think this discipline can get a little more exposure in the future?

A: Theatre On Ice is an amazing outlet for skaters of all levels. It’s actually how I found my first partner and got started in ice dance. The focus is more on your capability as a team to tell a story. I feel like it is the perfect combination of pairs, singles, ice dance and synchronized skating and I think that's what I enjoy most about the discipline. It really pushed me to come out of my shell, and actually have expression when I skated. I feel like that is a tremendous learning experience for young skaters. As far as exposure for Theatre On Ice, there is so much respect for Theatre On Ice in Europe. They have a completely different style of theatre over there, and they are so far beyond what we have in the U.S. There are amazing teams from France and Spain pushing the envelope. I really think people need to start a conversation about it here. It is a discipline that is truly for every single skater young and old, and I feel like it is still flying under the radar. It’s invaluable experience that exposes you to every aspect of skating. I was able to travel to world with Theatre On Ice. I have competed abroad in two Nations Cup's and one just recently in Spain last May. I think if skaters truly understood the caliber of competition and the legitimacy of the discipline both nationally and internationally Theatre On Ice could make a greater impact here in the U.S.

Q: Figure skating is really such a mental game. How do you deal with the stress and pressure of competing on an elite level in a healthy way?

A: Luckily for me, Stasia is a rock solid competitor. She is always super focused in competition and that really helps to calm me down. I have gotten better about relaxing and just letting my muscle memory take over, but usually I just pick a song for every competition and jam out while I am warming up. I was listening to a lot of Macklemore's “White Walls” in Boston... haha.

Q: Speaking of healthy, let's go in a completely different direction... What are your favourite unhealthy foods?

A: Ice cream! I have been known to destroy many pints of Ben and Jerry’s. Stasia is also a phenomenal baker. So, I have a weakness for anything and everything that she makes.

Q: Who are your three favourite ice dance teams of all time and why?

A: Meryl Davis and Charlie White - they constantly push the envelope of what you think is possible. They come back every year with amazing material, and as I fellow competitor it demands your respect. They have done incredible things for Ice Dancing as a sport and along with Belbin and Agosto I feel like they have paved the way for American ice dancers in the future. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir - they are always perfectly stylized. They have a kind grace and ease to their skating that I would kill for... haha! Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon - they were the first team that really caught my attention and I just remember watching their program to "Somewhere In Time” over and over again. I loved their maturity and their ability to tell a story with their skating. It’s so cool to travel to competitions and see them there as coaches. Stasia makes fun of me because I get too nervous to say anything to them!

Q: What is one thing about you most people don't know?

A: I feel like there are a lot of things... haha! I am very passionate about coaching. I have always wanted to be a coach, and that desire has only grown for me. My true dream is to have my own dance program, and become one of the few truly American ice dance coaches. When I am not training, I am coaching. I generally coach about 30-40 hours a week. At the moment I am working with four synchro teams in Maryland at Collegiate, Intermediate, Pre-Juvenile, and Beginner levels, I have students in the National Solo Dance series, and I have a Pre-Juvenlie dance team that I coaching with my girlfriend Isabella.  

Q: What is one thing on your "bucket list" that you want to cross off in 2014?

A: One thing that I have always had a fascination with is curling and I have always wanted to try it! So, this year we already have plans to rent out a curling rink in Maryland with a bunch of friends. I will be watching the curling in Sochi very closely, and when the time comes I will be on top of my game!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

A Renaissance Fair? Looking At Professional Figure Skating's Present And Future

Why do we long for 1994? Let me correct that last sentence. Why do I long for 1994? I was in middle school (junior high) but somewhere in my brain I understood it was time I was to stand up take notice of skating and  to fall in love with it - and to start skating myself at an age later than most... and make up for lost time. We could be cliche and say we thanked "Nancy And Tonya". True, that tabloid field day/tragedy was a huge reason why pro skating in the 90's took off like it did. Had the reigning U.S. Champion not been attacked by the cohorts of the next year's victor ratings for the sport would never have gone through the roof. If you look at both Nancy and Tonya today, they BOTH deserve our empathy and love.

There was more to it than just Nancy and Tonya. You had people like Katarina Witt, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Brian Boitano, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, Elaine Zayak and Viktor Petrenko all taking advantage of the ISU's brilliant reinstatement opportunity. You had an Olympic Gold Medallist who was an orphan, a World Silver Medallist who refused her medal, the Kurt/Elvis rivalry and a controversial ice dance win. Skating was on everyone who mattered's lips. 

So professional skating, which was doing fabulously anyway, got an insane boost. We got to see every skater we wanted to see (and a few we were sick of) compete weekly free of required elements, music stipulations and other regulations. What was in essence a series of made for TV free-for-alls was made possible thanks to the likes of Dick Button, Michael Burg, Carole Shulman, Scott Williams and others. When I  researched and wrote about the U.S. Open, Jaca World Pro and American Open, I neglected to talk about the real appeal of professional competitions being timely under the sport's public eye.

Had these events not been made available and skating not been in such a high profile at the time, we can assuredly say that a lot of these great artistic skaters that really made their name in those events never would have had the careers they did. Some continue to. As much as I long for 1994, it isn't 1994 anymore. "We're not in Kansas anymore." The recent spike in popularity of skating and improved Olympic figure skating coverage on NBC are promising signs, as are skaters like Miki Ando and Nobunari Oda both announcing their recent retirement from competitive skating on a continent where skating is wildly popular right now. With events like the Japan Open and Medal Winners Open, we've seen a market for pro-am/professional competitions in that corner of the world and skating shows in Korea, China and Japan alike are more popular than ever, playing to sellout crowds. Japanese skaters like Shizuka Arakawa and Takeshi Honda continue to enjoy very thriving pro careers in Asia.

Professional skating is not dead or dying. ProSkaters Virtual Skate-Off continues to take advantage of the age of social media with an online skating competition that allows singles, pairs, adagio skaters, show acts and group choreography to all be judged by the best in the business - Brian Boitano, Kurt Browning, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner and Richard Dwyer are among the judges for this competition that gives professional skaters exposure. In late July, in Sun Valley, Idaho, the first open professional competition in over a decade will be presented by ProSkaters in conjunction with the Live Auditions and Performance Camp that will be held on July 28 and 29, 2014. Robin Cousins' Ice, Aerial Ice, Willy Bietak, Disney On Ice, Sun Valley Ice Shows, Glacier I.C.E., Bobrin Ice Theatre, Imperial Ice Theatre, Ice Theatre Of New York, Disson Skating, Stars On Ice, All That Skate, the Prince Ice World shows in Japan and television programs like Dancing On Ice in the UK (and spin-offs around the world) and Battle Of The Blades in Canada are just a small fraction of the performance opportunities available to skaters who choose to explore professional careers in the sport right now. Unless all of these wonderful production companies and the professional skaters associated with them are secretly zombies, I hardly think professional skating is dead. Do you?

With IMG and U.S. Figure Skating's recent official announcement of a post-Olympics partnered tour of the United States, the future looks bright for bringing show skating back into the general public's consciousness. Whether or not the stars of Sochi who are on this tour choose to retain eligible status or turn professional following the Games, they are getting valuable exposure to a North American audience that's really so eager to get to KNOW skaters again. With new performance opportunities and things like this tour seemingly popping up everyday, we have to remember that the eligible stars of today could very well be the professional stars of tomorrow if this tour coupled with Stars On Ice touring amps up the U.S. public's interest in show skating again. All it takes is a spotlight, a little TV and the kind of performances that get people excited and interested. If you don't think professional figure skating's future is bright, put down the cynicism tea and realize that just about anything is indeed possible if we believe in it. We can settle for less or we can eagerly anticipate the coming of a skating Renaissance that's already almost here.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Interview With Sheila Thelen

I have never been to Minnesota or met Sheila Thelen in person but the moment I saw the video of her driving in her skates, I was like "she's my kind of people!" Throw in the fact that she invented and designed Champion Cords, runs Grassroots To Champions seminars and is an integral part of and Young Artists Showcase in addition to being a great skating coach, and you have one pretty remarkable human being. When I skated I was lucky enough to work with both Susan Tuck and Katy Martins - two fantastic coaches with great senses of humor and attitudes - and Sheila Thelen is totally a coach with that same great attitude and caring about her students. Talking about YAS, Sheila said, "I'm still shocked how many skaters and coaches have no idea or have not followed it! IT IS FABULOUS!"... and she's 100% right. She took the time from her busy life and schedule to talk about everything from her own days as a skater to coaching, IJS, the future of the sport and much more. You're going to love this one:

Q: You are responsible for so much GOOD in the sport. You've designed Champion Cords, you're the Executive Director of Grassroots To Champions, you're integral in the success of YAS and you hold a Master Rating as a coach with the Professional Skating Association. What are your most proud of in your career more than anything? Most proud of?

A: There are a lot of different things to be proud of and not all of them have to do with coaching. Professionally, inventing Champion Cords, running Grassroots To Champions, being a part of iCoachSkating, MKYAS4, and the FRIENDSHIPS I've made in coaching – all are priceless to me. These training devices, techniques, and information sources are very helpful to the future of skating. Coaching wise? It isn't so much to get a talented skater to learn a new spin or jump as much as it is to get a kid with no talent, no money and only the drive to do something they did not think they could do. That smile on their face... priceless.

Q: Behind every fabulous coach is a fabulous skating career. What can you share about your own?

A: My skating career wasn't the best. I wasn't the one with all of the first places or most trophies. I was the one who stuck it out and kept on trying. I try to use figure skating as a life lessons example to my students. My favorite Jon Bon Jovi quote: "You can’t win, until you’re not afraid to lose."

Q: What originally brought you into coaching and what's kept you involved and excited all these years about what you are doing? 

A: I started with some basic coaching in college. Then after returning from a 1 1/2 year overseas Grad Program, I got back into coaching. I've always LOVED coaching. I really enjoy working with other AMAZING coaches ! I am so honored to work along with Audrey Weisiger, Nick Perna, Chris Conte, Trevor Laak, Pasquale Camerlengo (who did my voicemail), Douglas Webster, Doug Mattis, Page Lipe and so many more! I feel blessed to work with so many great athletes and coaches. The seminars are a total blast. I also love using DARTFISH software, to help skaters learn and apply corrections.

Q: If someone gave you a big old genie lamp and allowed you to make three wishes for the future of figure skating, what would they be? And no, more wishes can't be one of them. 

A: One is better techniques, more information to the skaters and coaches. Shameless plug to #2 is to do away with the IJS. #3 is to get more kids involved with skating. I'm magical so I get 4 wishes, so #4 is more skaters and coaches attending the Grassroots To Champions Seminar (that will totally improve the sport).

Q: What is your most embarrassing moment? 

A: OH – I have so many! Getting on the ice carrying a cup of coffee and forgetting that I had my skate guards on. I chipped my elbow but still taught for 4 hours, went to the accountant... then the emergency room. That weekend I took 6 kids backstage at Stars On Ice (looking like an idiot pro in arm sling to the entire Stars On Ice cast!)

Q: Your funniest? 

A: Working with the coaches at Grassroots To Champions. They are the funniest group of people I have ever worked with. No matter what city we are doing a seminar, we have the best stories in skating. We've nearly shut down airports, had crazed ping pong tournaments and worked with hilarious Grassroots To Champions skaters! My life is neverending smiles and humor.

Q: I love food, I love music and I love reading! What is your favourite meal, song and book? 

A: My favourite meal is lobster in any form. Although, people have figured me out – so they "dangle the lobster meal" to "motivate" me to attend certain events. Lobster. My favourite song is "Rebecca", the theme from Top Gear UK... hahaha! Our entire family has watched 18 SEASONS of Top Gear. I want my own "TOP BLADE" TV Show! We would look just like Top Gear UK – but it would have the Grassroots To Champions coaches! We’d be huge. Seriously, I love all types of music. I really try to stay current. That stupid "Royals" song sticks in my head for days... My favorite book? I love to read. I read everything. Motivation, marketing, negotiating and anything you can buy at an airport.

Q: What is the skating world's biggest problem and how can coaches fix it? 

A: The biggest problem is the IJS. It's too complicated and limits the skater to certain routines to get the maximum amount of points. The result is a decrease in the creativity of the sport and innovation in skating. Now they all look same, doing the same routines, just in the different orders. Also, a lack of children skating. We need to have young kids getting into figure skating. Girls hockey took many of potential skaters away from figure skating. We need to get them back. ATHLETIC girls and boys!

Q: Who are your three favorite skaters of all time and why?

A: Scott Hamilton, Kurt Browning and Pasquale Camerlengo. Scott and Kurt because they have big personalities that help skating. Pasquale? Aside from being a great choreographer, he does the best voicemail messages ever.

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know? 

A: After college I was an archaeologist and I carried a gun, just like Indiana Jones (sorry, no whip). I worked for over a 1 1/2 years on various digs in Israel. When I got back from Israel, I got back on the ice as a coach and haven’t left. I've applied my education to coaching. Especially, when using DARTFISH computer software.

Q: If you could give every single skater in the world one piece of advice from your heart, what would it be? 

A: It would be advice I learned from Audrey Weisiger: Dream. Dare. DO.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Interview With Fernand Fédronic

I tried roller skating once and ended up falling in a barrel garbage can in the back patio of a bar while in drag. Personally, I don't see a lot of similarities between figure skates and roller skates at all. I love me some deep edges and the security of you know, a toe pick. I remember growing up and being just floored knowing that skaters like Marina Kielmann were able to simultaneously focus on competing on an elite level in figure skating and roller skating at the same time - Kielmann won three consecutive medals at the World Roller Skating Championships in between her trips to the Calgary and Albertville Olympics as a figure skater. It just kind of blew my mind and still does, I think really because I found one natural and the other completely unnatural. 

Even more remarkable is the story of France's Fédronic, a French National Figure Skating Champion and elite skater of the eighties who was a specialist in compulsory figures and went to a career as a successful professional figure skater, coach/choreographer extraordinaire and commentator. Just years ago, decades after his "amateur" career had ended, he took up roller skating and is now one of the world's top competitors (and champions) in a brand new (and in my opinion, quite different though similar) sport. Fernand's unique story spans his eligible and professional careers and includes the stories of close associations with Surya and Suzanne Bonaly, Didier Gailhaguet and many more and he was kind enough take the time to do this wonderful interview.

Q: During your figure skating career, you twice won the French Junior title before becoming France’s senior men’s champion in 1985.  In representing France internationally at major competitions such as the European Championships, World Junior Championships and World Championships, you certainly would have experienced  so many fantastic moments. What are your proudest moments on the ice from your “amateur” career?

A: When you are on the podium with your national anthem playing for you and because of your golden result, that was for me at the Grand Prix International in St. Gervais, France in 1982 (long time ago) and when I won the compulsory figures at the European Championships in 1985. One thing with great satisfaction was at Junior Worlds in 1981 in London, Ontario when, after smashing myself into the barrier at the short program warm up, I had to stay in a chair of ice for 5 hours before the long program to be able to move and maybe skate... and I did (not very good though)!

Q: You were an expert at compulsory figures, winning the men's compulsories at the 1985 European Championships ahead of Jozef Sabovcik and others. Why were figures so important and do you think today's skaters and coaches need to re-explore this lost art as a training tool?

A: You are very well informed! Well, I began skating because of my older brother Dominic (who did the first triple Lutz in the Junior World Championships in Megeve in 1979). He was very good in free skating as I couldn't be so I think I trained myself to exist in an other way. I was practicing so many hours to achieve that - about 7 hours per day to prepare the big events. Once, I had incredible marks for my backward paragraph loops... between 5.0 and 5.2. A real dream at that time. Nowadays those compulsory figures do not exist anymore - it is from the TV and audience interests I suppose. For the skaters, it's certainly a gain of time and comfort (cold feet and fingers for hours...). The most part of actual figure skaters don't know the history of edges and turns and elements which is the culture of our sport! To go backward, except the increase of lesson hours, would not be the point. We still have this step sequence to remind us this knowledge but for how long? The velocity goes against the pure edges. There are a lot of new paths to explore.

Q: Following the 1987/1988 season, you turned professional and finished second at the World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain in 1990. What are the differences between "amateur" and professional skating and what the merits of both?

A: In our great sport, we have this incredible opportunity of double attraction for the main audience to watch and/or to get into the sport. The technical performance way with the suspense and thrill of the achievement and the only entertainment way. Creativity is welcome in both. For the skaters, there is only one champion (even if the path is more important than the goal) but it is good to have as well a positive way to be proud of, and more accessible.

Q: You are a three-time champion at the World Inline Figure Skating Championships representing Glace & Roller Inline Paris (2011-2013). Was inline skating something you had an interest in while you figure skated and how difficult was the transition to make, especially to go back to competing after so many years away from your competitive career on the ice? 

A: In the late 80's, I ordered PicSkate inline skates (only God knows why) but I never really used them and 3 years ago a friend talked to me about fun Inline roller skating and competitions. I tried and found it really similar to ice skating but different enough to give me the feeling I start something new. Honestly, at my age (forty-nine), I still enjoy very much the contact with the audience but I don't have anymore the courage to practice on ice but to see my skating level decreasing. I discovered in Inline Figure Skating a way to practice with fun, to get very quickly to a good level and to fill the thrill of a competition (real competition against myself and against the time that goes). Now I have created my own Inline skating club named V.I.P. with honorary members like Surya Bonaly and Stannick Jeannette. 

Q: For a time, you worked with Suzanne Bonaly in coaching 5 time European Champion Surya Bonaly. What was your relationship with the Bonaly’s like and what makes Surya such a unique and amazing skater in your opinion?

A: I was there to help at a time it was needed only in the choreographic aspect and representing as a coach. Surya is a skater with incredible athletic skills that she still has after all those years and a leader for black people in skating as was Debi Thomas. I met Surya the first time when I returned from San Francisco where I was in summer school with Brian Boitano and Yvonne Gomez under the coaching of Linda Leaver. She was a very young skater from Nice and already a good  jumper. When she upgraded to Paris National Skating School she stayed with her mother Suzanne in my sister's apartment we kindly rented to them.

Q: You’ve travelled all over the world doing choreography for other skaters, performing and working for the ISU as a Technical Specialist. What is your favourite place you’ve visited and where is one place you’ve never been you’d most like to?

A: I love Southeast Asia and discovered wonderful people and landscape in Myanmar, delightful food, wild nature and spiritual atmosphere in Laos, unexpected modernity in China, the essence of life and affordable incredible luxury in India, the war between stone and jungle in Cambodia, and magic Malaysia or Vietnam or Thailand and almost all Mediterranean countries... not really skating places but sunny places! I really want to finish my ancient Greek and Rome tour by a visit to Egypt and am ready to start Central and South America and lower African countries. A huge program!

Q: You are a tenor and have given over eighty performances as Paris in La Belle Hélène. Having studied at Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique in Paris and having such a long eligible skating career, you certainly have learned a lot about discipline. What do you figure skating and musical performance have in common, in your opinion ?

A: Music, performance, practice and audience. I am still waiting the opportunity to do the both in real optimum conditions. 

Q: During your eligible career, you were coached by Didier Gailhaguet. What is your relationship with him like?

A: Difficult to say. I was in sport school 500 km from my parents home from the age of twelve and probably Didier was a bit like another father. Then sport life goes by and the end of the competitive career approaches and water runs under the bridge and I try to help as I can with the figure skating my own way, avoiding all political aspects.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: Moiseeva and Minenkov because they were the dream on TV. Gary Beacom, because of an incredible creativity and amazing magic performance on a tour I organized in Italy... with his bird call program at minus 10 temperature at night, in an outdoor rink nearby a forest. The magic stayed for several minutes after the end of the great number because all the birds in the trees woke up and started to sing... A fairy tale! Third, both Shawn Sawyer and Kurt Browning. They bring another dimension into the ice.

Q: What’s one thing about you most people don’t know?

A: I was born in Lyon (continental France) from parents from Martinique island with a great French poet in the family ancestors from my mother side (Arthur Rimbaud) and a big melting pot of ancestors (India, Italy, the Northeast of France and Africa).

Q: To someone who has never skated, how would you describe the feeling of being out on the ice by yourself?

A: I love skating to the limit of my edges, enjoying the curves and the feeling of the wind on my cheeks. I love moving to music and to leave my body and revel in its sensation of the outside world.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Hanni Sondheimer Vogelweid, The Skates That Survived The Holocaust And The Sochi Olympics

In a sea of black, grey and white, one girl in a red coat. That iconic visual and moment depicted in "Schindler's List" that stays in our mind forever.

Born on October 5, 1923, in Berlin, Germany, 17 year old Hanni Sondheimer Vogelweid was living in Lithuania when World War II broke out and fled with her parents Moritz and Setty and her 14 year old brother Karl to Japan in an attempt to escape the 1940 Soviet occupation of Kaunus and eventually emigrate to the U.S. where her family had relatives. Her grandmother and great aunt's family weren't so fortunate. They ended up being in a work camp. Her voyage from Kaunus, Lithuania ended up being unsuccesful due to visa restrictions and Hanni and her family were forced to move to China, as they became officially stateless after leaving Lithuania. She journeyed from Kaunus, Lithuania to Shanghai, China with only a few personal belongings: a picture of Gary Cooper, a pair of red shoes and her leather lace-up figure skates.

From 1941 to 1946, Hanni and her family were forced to live and be interned in the Hongkew (Hongkou Qu) ghetto of Shanghai with other Jewish refugees. In 1946, Hanni married a U.S. soldier and safely emigrated from China to the U.S. and she arrived with the pair of figure skates that survived that harrowing trip from Lithuania to Japan to China to the U.S. "I couldn't bring much," explained Hanni in a narrative on file with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where the skates and a collection of Hanni and her family's belongings are among the materials. "I loved ice skating and I could take my ice skates because I thought in America you can ice skate." Hanni's family arrived in the U.S. the following year.

Hanni, her parents, Moritz and Setty, and her 14 year old brother, Karl, fled Kaunas due to the Soviet occupation in 1940. They planned to emigrate to the United States, but visa restrictions made them take a difficult route through Russia to Japan. Classified as stateless refugees when they reached Japan in March 1941, they were deported to Shanghai where they survived the war in the Hongkew ghetto. Hanni married a US soldier and emigrated to the United States in 1946. Her family emigrated the next year. following the Soviet occupation in 1940. They planned to emigrate to the United States, but quota restrictions made them take a difficult route through Russia to Japan. Classified as stateless refugees when they reached Japan in March 1941, they were deported to Shanghai, China, where they survived the war in the Hongkew ghetto. Hanni married a US soldier and emigrated to the United States in 1946. Her family emigrated the next year.

The skates sit in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., serving as a haunting reminder of the life of one teenager who survived anti-Semitism in the German school she attended in Kaunus, a nerve-wracking trip via the Trans-Siberian Railroad, ship to Tsuruga, Japan, extreme poverty and near-starvation in Shanghai and a cross Pacific voyage from China to Comanche, Iowa, skates in tow. If that's not the definition of survivor I don't know what is.

Just four years before Hanni and her family had fled Lithuania, Sonja Henie was performing an exhibition at the Sportpalast in Berlin, one of her favourite rinks. Unexpectedly one evening, Hitler himself, Goring, Goebbels and other Nazis came to the Sportpalast to see her perform. When Sonja was told of Hitler's attendance, she found out where he was seated and skated full speed towards him, stopped right in front of him, gave the Nazi salute and in a loud voice shouted "Heil Hitler!" to thunderous applause and a blown kiss from the man who was responsible for the deaths of approximately 60,000,000 to 85,000,000 people worldwide during World War II. Despite claiming "I don't even know what a Nazi is" Sonja remained good friends with Hitler until his troops invaded Norway and again sported that salute at the 1936 Olympics in Germany.

We say that the Olympics aren't a place to get political. They sure were in 1936 and it's horrific to think that the most famous skater of Hanni's time was someone who publicly showed support of the Nazi regime... in Hanni's own country of birth. Albert Einstein once said that "peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding." That's really it. The Olympic Games are all about bringing nations and people together to do something positive together. It's a lot like going to a family or work event where you may not get along with everyone 365 days a year but you say hey, we're going to do something positive together damn it. In that long ago time, one skater won 3 Olympic gold medals and publicly supported Hitler and another ran for her life with her skates. Both of these ice loving ladies aren't with us anymore but I think there's still an important message in that connection. In 1936, Hitler used the Olympics as a platform to spread hate, bigotry and sneer in the face of human rights. The same thing is going on again in Russia right now, less than a hundred years later. I'm sure the next generation of skating fans would hate to be hearing the story of another Olympics taking place in the midst of hate and of a young GLBT skater fleeing Russia with HIS or HER skates just to survive. In Nigeria right now, a man received 20 lashes after an Islamic court in Bauchi convicted him of "homosexual offences". We've all seen the video of the Russian teenager splashed with urine by his peers who supported Putin's anti-gay law - which is also supported by none other than Public Chamber Of Russia member and 3 time Olympic Gold Medallist Irina Rodnina as well. I don't know about you, but in Canada we have this thing called human rights. I couldn't have more pride in Barack Obama for his decision to send openly gay athletes to Sochi as a peaceful reminder of human rights and in U.S. Figure Skating, Ashley Wagner and Jeremy Abbott for all of their recent statements in support of human rights. I'll even hand it to our Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who like Obama will not be attending the Sochi Games. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in the summer: "This mean-spirited and hateful law will affect all Russians 365 days of the year, every year. It is an incitement to intolerance, which breeds hate. And intolerance and hate breed violence."

As skating fans and human beings, we owe a little more to people like Hanni Sondheimer Vogelweid. With Sochi fast approaching, it's happening. There's not a boycott. The Olympics aren't moving. They're happening where they are whether we like it or not. My only hope is that people will continue to open their mouths and do so at the Games too. These are basic human rights we're talking about here. We wouldn't have gone to a KKK meeting and be "respectful of the host's beliefs" so as not to rock the boat, and I hope the people attending the Sochi Games aren't ruled by fear of their environment. This is the perfect time TO get a message across. If not then, when?

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Interview With Jorik Hendrickx

In interviewing skaters from all corners of this big, beautiful world the same story always seems to ring true. No matter what the obstacles and challenges are, if you love skating enough you persevere. This case rings true for Belgium's Jorik Hendrickx, the 21 year old who hopes to represent his country at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia after securing that men's berth at last year's World Championships in London, Ontario. A consistent jumper who has placed in the top 10 at the European Championships and won international competitions such as the Cup Of Nice in France and Coupe du Printemps in Luxembourg, Jorik took the time from his busy training schedule heading into this week's European Championships where he'll be competing to talk about setbacks, his Olympic dream, skating in Belgium and more.

Q: You are not only a Belgian National Champion but have also had success representing your country in international competition and at the World Junior Championships, European Championships and at Worlds, where you have twice placed in the top twenty. What are your proudest accomplishments and most special moments on the ice so far?

A: It would be Worlds last year, coming back after an ankle injury and getting ready in 2 months. Even though my short program wasn't my best, I still performed a good long program and earned an international ticket for Sochi.

Q: What does a chance of representing your country in Sochi at the Olympics mean to you?

A: I'm still not sure if they will let me go but if I go it would just mean a lot to myself. It would be an appreciation of all the hard work I put into it and all the sacrifices I had to make for it.

Q: You are a student at Johan Cruyff University in Tilburg. How challenging has it been balancing school and skating and what's one thing you've learned ON the ice that has helped you in your studies?

A: Combining both is really hard and abroad in Holland the facilities were much better.  I took off this whole year to just focus on skating.

Q: Belgium has not won an Olympic medal in figure skating since Micheline Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet won the gold medal at the 1948 Winter Olympics in Switzerland. What do you think the future of figure skating of Belgium holds in store? How popular is skating there now?

A: Skating was getting more popular after some TV shows but there is no financial support and the sacrifices you have to make for it are mostly the reasons why they don’t get to the international level. My parents and I first had to put a lot of money into it before I got some financial support, as the support comes from the Belgian Olympic Committee and not from our Skating Federation. So the results need to be good and Olympic promising.

Q: If you could go back in time and change anything, would you?

A: Life is as it comes and I have no regrets from anything so far (besides breaking my ankle). I have had a lot of opportunities in my life from skating.

Q: If you had a week completely away from skating and the ice and could do ANYTHING, what would you do?

A: I never been on a real holiday! I would like to go on a beach holiday. I would also spend time with my family as I'm away a lot.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: I'm inspired by a lot of skaters. Everyone has their qualities and I don’t really have only one or 3 favourites.

Q: What you say that your ultimate goal in figure skating is?

A: When I was fifteen I landed my double Axel. When I was sixteen I landed my first triples. When I was eighteen I learned triple/triples andone1 year later I accomplished the triple Axel jump. Everything went so fast and I never thought I would ever skate at the European Championships. Now I’m almost about to compete at my first Olympic Games. I always want more and more but sometimes I have to realize everything came so fast and be thankful for what I already accomplished. I would really like to perform a quadruple jump as I'm not capable of that yet.

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A: When I started skating I wanted to become a hockey player.

Q: What makes a great skater?

A: Talent and motivation to work!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

If the skating that we saw all week in Boston is any indication, the future may be bright in U.S. figure skating but the present is positively radiant. Like a perfectly simmered New England Clam Chowder, the skating was just delicious. The dust has finally settled and the endgame has been determined. After triumphant moments and crushing defeats, we now know who will be representing the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia and who unfortunately won't. I want to preface my thoughts on the senior competitions first by congratulating the bright young stars and champions of the Juvenile and Intermediate divisions, Novice Champions Paolo Borromeo, Vivian Le, Ai Setoyama and David Botero, Gigi and Luca Becker and Junior Champions Nathan Chen, Amber Glenn, Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage and Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Your accomplishments aren't merely stepping stones - they are beautiful accomplishments in themselves. I also want to encourage those of you who want to catch up on all of the Boston buzz you may have missed to check out Jackie Wong's Figure Skating Examiner. I follow a TON of blogs and skating news sites, and I have to applaud Jackie for always offering comprehensive coverage of eligible competitions free of bias and vitriol. Now for a few thoughts on show things went down in Boston:


The silver medal winning free skate from Zhang and Bartholomay that blew the roof off the rink!

Pairs skating in the U.S. has always had the ugly and largely undeserved reputation ladies skating earns in Canada. It's interesting having just interviewed Ken Shelley recently that you look back to that storied history of U.S. pairs skating you see Olympic medals in pairs skating in 1932, 1952, 1960, 1964, 1984 and 1988 but a drought ever since. That's not to say there hasn't been amazing skating - look at skaters like Todd Sand and both his partners Natasha Kuchiki and Jenni Meno and Kyoko Ina and her second partner John Zimmerman who won world medals since then. Whatever that stigma was, the pairs in Boston disproved. Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir led after the short program and despite errors in their free skate fought tooth and nail and even attempted (and rotated) a throw quad salchow. Caydee Denny and John Coughlin had a magical free skate but just weren't able to quite play catch up to Marissa and Simon overall. Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay were outstanding in both their short program and "Les Miserables" free skate, fighting for every point and going clean, really giving the performance of the night in the opinion of most, finishing 2nd. While I think all of these teams really delivered and sent that message about the strength of pairs skating in the U.S., I gotta say - the 2nd place finish of Zhang and Bartholomay kind of brings home that message of how confusing this IJS system is to casual fans of the sport... when the "performance of the night" doesn't win, it confuses people and rightfully so but I really applaud U.S. Figure Skating by doing the right thing and sending them. I don't think anyone was screwed royally in the pairs judging OR Sochi team announcement. DeeDee Leng and Timothy LeDuc definitely win the award for most improved in my really gay opinion... the footwork is great and the throws look so much bigger. Also, I want to be Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim's triple twist when I grow up.


The depth in U.S. ladies skating right now is simply unending. If you look at how many of these ladies were trying (and landing) triple/triple combinations in the short program, especially the fact many of them are really fresh faces, it was almost like watching Japanese Nationals and seeing a field of skaters that would rival ANY international competition. My heart went out to skaters like Agnes Zawadzki, Courtney Hicks and Rachael Flatt, who really lost the competition with mistakes in the short program that really buried them somewhat in the standings. Not the way you want to go out and not an indication of how talented any of these ladies are. Nice to see Hicks really recover the most of the 3 of them. It's clear to me Rachael (for example) just loves skating but the fire wasn't there - that popped lutz in the short program wasn't from the same skater who won gold at this event in 2010. It was the complete opposite with 2008 Champion Mirai Nagasu. She was NOT going down without a fight and that's something I think is so important, even if she did skate to a twinkly elevator music version of "The Man I Love" and music from James Bond, God love her. She didn't quit after she got shafted in that free skate last year and seriously, that alone deserves mad props. Her free skate was exemplary and it was great to see her rewarded with another medal. I see a lot of hope for the future in Polina Edwards - anyone who can reel of a triple lutz/triple toe combination like it's nothing at age 15 is a skater we want to be paying close attention to. As for the puddle problems and ice quality in the free skate, TV contracts aside for safety and performance issues that ice should have been resurfaced again. This is skating, not synchronized swimming. If Jem was here, she would have said that was "outrageous. Totally, totally, totally outrageous". Ashley's free skate just broke my heart. The pressure on her must have been just ridiculous and I think that can be said for everyone but I don't think the ice quality can't be blamed for ANYONE'S problems in the free skate. Although Sasha Cohen (a former Olympic Medallist) was excluded from the 2010 Olympic team after a 4th place finish that year in her comeback, I think a case for Ashley being included was absolutely there, especially given her impeccable competitive history and the soup she skated in. I don't know... she's an adult among girls and I'm just so happy that U.S. Figure Skating did the right thing and included her. So incredibly sad for Mirai! If it were up to me, I would have sent Gracie, Mirai and Ashley but I think with Polina's technical arsenal and fearlessness there's definitely a case for her going as well. Gracie Gold, in winning her first national title, really lived up to those insane expectations she was getting last year from the media (social and otherwise) and skating community and delivered when she needed to. She wasn't perfect in the free skate, but who was really? At any rate, the ladies event was certainly full of drama, intrigue, glory and gut wreching disappointment just as any good Olympic year Nationals free skate has been in the past and will be going forward.


You could have punched Meryl Davis and Charlie White's ticket to Sochi quite confidently with a big "Hey Girl Hey!" LONG before the competition in Massachusetts even started but the importance of Davis and White and Virtue and Moir competing at their respective Nationals had a lot more to do with a final run through/fine tuning before a showdown on former Soviet soil. With the temperatures in both Canada and the U.S. this winter and the way these two teams interactions are edited on Tessa and Scott's W reality show, you really could call it a 'cold war'. As always, Davis and White dazzled and laid down two "first rate, first rate" Dick Button performances that really exemplified their strengths. As much as many may disagree, I still don't get that "ooo"/"aaa" feeling from their "Scheherazade" free dance as much as I'd like to but it's certainly a masterpiece. I don't think it has anything to do with the program composition, components or the way its interpreted - to me it's just the music. What interested me more that their win was how the battles between the other teams played out. As much as I'm a huge supporter/fan of Lynn and Logan (who were just FANTASTIC in both the short and free dances), I really have to applaud ALL of the top 6 teams. Ice dancing in the U.S. has never had this depth to the field and if it were up to me (which I wish it would be) 6 Olympic spots would be just fabulous in my books. At the end of the day, to no one's shock OR dismay Davis and White handily won another U.S. title in sublime fashion with a score of 200.19, bringing down the house and edging out Madison Chock and Evan Bates, Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. These teams were just all so fantastic they all deserve hugs and/or Long Island Iced Teas... that's what I have to say about that... P.S. to Maia Shibutani - you only have to be 19 to enjoy a refreshing, healthy Long Island Iced Tea in Canada! Come do that Thriller face here girl! P.P.S. - I think they should include Hannah Miller as a special guest in that free dance: "Hannah Miller... In The Night! She Did A Double Axel On A Boot That Had A Knife!" No more Michael Jackson parodies, I promise. That would be just be criminal... SMOOTH criminal.


Jeremy Abbott's record breaking short program

The silver medal winning free skate from Jason Brown that had me in tears

I make no secret about my love for Jeremy Abbott's skating. He's really one of only a real handful of current skaters who seem to be able to deliver a meaningful performance with some meat and potatoes and true depth and performance quality with this IJS system that really stymies the choreographic process. Leading up to this competition, all I could think of was... 2 spots, Jeremy needs to be one of those 2 skaters. Among the rest of the men's field with that kind of depth, there were at least a dozen other skaters I would love to have seen in that second spot. Jeremy's short program was literally the stuff magic was made of. I haven't seen a performance under the IJS system that has inspired me that way in years... or ever. To come back and nail it like he did, blowing the roof off of the arena in Boston and skating lights out - almost hitting 100 points in the short - resonated such a positive message about how truly fantastic Jeremy is when he's on. He's really a class ahead of any competition you can throw his away. Sorry bout it. That performance to me was akin to watching Rudy Galindo at the 1996 Nationals - a magical breakthrough when it mattered most! At the end of the day, only 2 men are to earn golden tickets to the Sochi Olympics... and no, neither of them are Evan Lysacek or Johnny Weir, who I half expected to crash the ice halfway through someone's program for a photo op... you never know girl. Stranger things have happened, like the time the flasher went on the ice when Michelle Kwan was out there. Overall though, SO many impressive skaters and moments... Doug Mattis' Robbie, Sean Rabbit, Grant Hochstein, Josh Farris, Ricky Dornbush, Stephen Carriere, Tintin... I mean Ross Miner's "Boston Strong" tribute to the people of Boston and the Marathon Bombing victims... the list just goes on and on. I was a little heartbroken to see Adam Rippon have an off competition - the overall quality and elegance to his skating is just over the moon fantastic. I am in the throws of a mad love affair with Jason Brown's "Riverdance" free skate and to go out and deliver that kind of PERFORMANCE when it counted most and be received like that just speaks volumes about what kind of skating people really appreciate. Jason's not a legend in the making - he's the right here and right now and I can't say enough wonderful things about him. At my first Provincials here in Nova Scotia in 1997, I skated to the same exact same music for my artistic program choreographed by my coach Katy Leask (Martins). That music and program were really, really dear to my heart and to see someone take that music and do THAT with it quite honestly left me in tears today. The fact that it beat a quad jumping Max Aaron spoke a lot as well. Speaking of Max Aaron, he came back and couldn't have done anything MORE in his free skate - he's a jumping beast and his presentation has improved by split jumps and bounds. I have no words when it comes to Jeremy coming out and doing it AGAIN in the free skate when it counted more than anything. I've grown to be friends with Jeremy's Mom Allison and we've talked about so much and I really feel so much emotion over this victory. Just wow. So that was my secret cryfest of the day - Puffs should be sponsoring me, not U.S. Figure Skating. I'm tellin' ya girl! The big winners were Jeremy and Jason... and you know what, that couldn't have made me a happier person. If anyone deserved those moments, it was them and all of us watching. After watching both of them skate in Boston, my faith in "amateur" skating is restored. Just like that. For once, I'm speechless...

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Featured Post

Pre-Order Your Copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King"

  "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" won't be available for purchase until November 1, but the good news is that you can place...